Skip to main content

Super-Cooled Quantum Computing Is Coming

How To Work A Quantum Computer

Rather than moving Orion, D-Wave is developing remote access software. Writing quantum annealing algorithms for solving binary quadratic programs on Orion is very different from classical programming. You can work directly in the system’s machine language, directly choosing the current flowing on the input lines on the chip, but Rose expects that will only appeal to scientists studying the way quantum computing itself behave. Demos like the image matching system are written as problems in what he calls ‘industry standard ways to state combinatorial optimization problems’. A conventional computer converts that for Orion so that a solution corresponds to a pattern of current in the qubits that takes up the minimum amount of energy – the annealing.

“It’s like trying to find the lowest point in a valley when you have a ball and you let the ball go; it can find the lowest point by finding its natural state,” Rose explains. “It’s really easy to learn to use the system at this level, but figuring out how to recast the problem you really care about - say image matching - to use this new capability is very hard. Typically the folks who "get it" at this level have PhD-level discrete math backgrounds applied in an industry setting.”

Rose wants more people than that using Orion; “I’m a big fan of opening things up as much as possible to anyone wants to use them and making them easy to use even if people don’t understand quantum computation.” For the rest of us, D-Wave has produced a compiler that means programmers can state problems in SQL using a new FIND command. “This level of access allows anyone who is an expert database programmer to begin using the system within about 30 minutes,” claims Rose, “most of which is in learning the syntax of the FIND command, which is very similar to SELECT.” Developers who want to prototype applications or get familiar with the interface can try the programming model out with D-Wave’s Web service solver, although this currently runs a software emulation rather than sending commands to real hardware.

D-Wave’s demonstrations have generated plenty of controversy, partly because the company hasn’t published the kind of information that comes out of less commercial concerns in peer-reviewed journals. Critics suggest that what D-wave has is an analog computer that won’t achieve quantum performance; Geordie Rose believes time will show it’s a true quantum computer. “It’s known that there are several universal models of quantum computation, just like there are several universal classical models. The one we picked, adiabatic quantum computing, has significant advantage in that it’s easy to implement with large qubits.”

Using semiconductor manufacturing techniques means D-Wave can create a new version of the processor every month and keep tweaking it to fix any problems. And he’s confident there’s enough demand that we’ll see a usable quantum computer within years, not the decades some predict. “There’s a huge push from business and technology and that push is not going to go away any time. This is not like super high temperature conductors or fusion; this is something that’s going to be pushed until it works.”